Updated: Apr 16, 2019
Abrbandi is a unique weaving technique that employs a very complex binding to dye the threads prior to weaving the fabric. Because the surface design is created in the yarns rather than on the finished cloth, this creates the fabric's signature pixelated looks, so often prized by textile collectors and world’s haute couture fashion houses.
Although this type of weaving, internationally known as “ikat” has emerged independently from different parts of the world, none have rendered it as richly and intricately as the masters of Fergana valley. When compared with other regions, these Central Asian cousins are an explosion of colour and pattern and are considered the world's finest.
Central to the appeal of ikat to collectors and art lovers is the sheer vibrancy and imaginativeness of their designs, as well as the way they provide us with clues to the everyday life of the great region to which they belong. This display celebrates the artistry and creative improvisation of abrbandi ikat makers who drew upon the shapes that surrounded them in everyday life to create these exuberant dynamic patterns. By isolating these shapes, I encourage the viewer to travel in time to the heart of the mystical Silk Road and observe how motifs were reinterpreted through color and form to create textiles truly unique and special.
ABRBANDI: "ABR" - CLOUD, “BAND” - TO BIND
Abrbandi is not just a name, but a poetic reference to this special cloud-like, blurred effect. The legend say that a Margilan weaver found an inspiration for such unique design in observing the reflection of nature in the waters of a lake, when a light breeze caused a ripple in the surface, fusing the colors into a mesmerizing pattern. So this fabric truly is - the green of rain-washed leaves, the red of tulip petals, the blush of dawn, the blue of the night sky and patches of sunlight on the water, all intertwined. It is the natural landscapes of Uzbekistan, the bright character of Uzbek people and the national artistic taste that are weaved in the pattern of this fabric.
Unlike any other fabric, abrabandi is a special weaving technique where surface design is created in the yarns, prior to weaving the fabric and employs a very complex binding and resist dyeing process. The final look of the fabric is formed as the threads are being woven together. This special technique creates the fabric's signature pixelated looks, so often prized by textile collectors and sought for by world’s haute couture fashion houses.
COLORS: A CALEIDOSCOPE OF CULTURE , HISTORY AND NATURE
When worn on the body or decorating the home, these luxury fabrics resonated against Central Asiaʼs steppe and desert landscapes, functioning as beacons of kaleidoscopic color and pattern that reflected the wealth and sophistication of its patrons.
Central Asian ikats are characteristically large bold designs. Bright primary colors such as red, yellow and blue (and their variations) are all made from natural colorants. As a generalization the yellow comes from saffron, blacks from pomegranate skins, red from cochineal insects, while blues come from indigo. Just the plant of mulberry itself is used to create five different colours: roots are used to make ochre, leaves – greens, the berries give colours from red to brown. Other natural colorants also include onion peel and walnut husks. All of these have been used by traditional artisans for a millennia.
PATTERNS: HIDDEN MEANINGS AND SACRED SYMBOLS
The alluring quality of Central Asian abrbandi ikats in particular lies in their bold juxtaposition of colors, rendered into designs with both ancient and nomadic origins.
Uzbek abrbandi patterns are noted by its diversity and each school of weaving differs by its local artistic peculiarities.Some of the graphic elements though have been common throughout the region and have special meanings and “functions”.
Well known around the world as “paisley”, a shape of almond is a symbol of divine blessing, creation and renaissance. Very popular in many cultures pomegranate is a symbol of abundance and fruitfulness. Similarly to it, a shape of grain is a symbol of fertility and new beginnings. Stylized scorpions, spiders, “snake trails” and chili peppers are strong amulet that protects the bearer from the evil eye - a widespread belief in Central Asia. Another typical motif - ram horns symbolized bravery and courage.
Floral motifs are especially popular and were derived from observing the nature. These included “tree of life”, a symbol rooted in ancient myths and the image of heaven and representing the source of life; tulip flower has been associated with a heart of a lover, it symbolizes awakening of the nature, beauty, love and purity.
Sometimes the ornaments include household items, but even they have their special meanings: knives are supposed to protect from misfortune and lamps are the symbols of the sacred light and protect from evil spirits.
Modern ikats also were made in shape of traditional Uzbek jewelry including drop-earrings and triangular-shaped amulet pendants (tumor). When a young Uzbek woman got married, she was expected to wear jewelry, which represented the wealth of her family. It was said that if a woman could not walk due to the heaviness of her new jewelry she came from a wealthy family. However, jewelry was expensive, and a wedding ceremony without jewelry was considered shameful, so to solve this problem, people began to buy ikats with patterns representing jewelry.
Even sacred texts or architectural elements also can be found in the patterns of these bound clouds.
While some of these stylized patterns are easily identifiable, others are indecipherable, as the motifs seem to have commingled and transformed into something new. What do you see when you look at them?
ARTISTIC VIRTUOSITY: A SYMBOL OF STATUS
Abrbandi fiber art is the manifestation of the artistic and technical virtuosity of the silk designers, dyers and weavers of Uzbekistan, adorned for its uniqueness and specialty. As stunning to look at as challenging to make, no wonder they have historically been symbols of status because of the skill and time their production required. These played many important economic and social roles throughout the history when robes & hangings were given payment for services rendered, as dowry and bride price, and as highly esteemed gifts. Beyond the border of Central Asia, ikat textiles had political value in diplomatic exchange as gifts between rulers. For peoples outside Central Asia, as well as for travelers and colonists in the region, ikat fabrics came to symbolise the exotism of this part of the world.
In a daily life of Uzbeks The most common use for ikats in Central Asia was for the clothing of both men and women. The wearing of silk ikat was regarded as a status symbol, so people would wear multiple layers of robes (up to ten garments in some cases) in order to indicate the wearer’s position and wealth. Ikats were also used at weddings (especially as dowry gifts) and for wrapping new born babies, as well as for soft furnishings such as prayer rugs and wall hangings.
Ikat was popular at all levels of society. Textile hangings adorned the walls of Central Asian mud-brick houses and would sometimes include sections of ikat. In poorer families, ikat textiles were reserved for use in the most important family rituals where textiles had always played a part – ikat cloth wrapped newborn babies; was an important part of a dowry; and was worn at weddings and by widows in mourning. None of the cloth was wasted – smaller sections of ikat would sometimes be sewn into blankets or made into children’s clothes.
ABRBANDI AND THE WORLD: A DIALOGUE BETWEEN CULTURES
Despite this complexity, the technique seems to have developed independently across many different cultures and continents and has been practiced for millennia. It is interesting to note that every Ikat weaving group has its own distinct patterns, styles and choices of colour. Although ikat weaving has emerged independently from different parts of the world, none have rendered it as richly and intricately as the masters of Fergana valley.
During the 20th century these textiles were collected and brought to Europe, Asia, Americas, where they entered the market as complements to the more familiar Central Asian carpets and embroideries. As recognition of their high artistic quality became more widespread, and research placed them into the appropriate cultural context, many abrbandi weaving found homes in museums. Here, they continue to play an important part in dialogue between cultures.
In 2005 Oscar de la Renta used abrabandi ikat for their collection, and since then the unusual patterns continue to be a designer favourite as they find their way into fashion and interior design for their exuberance of dazzling colors, enchanting patterns, and noble opalescence.
In 2018, Uzbekistan’s abrabandi art was recognized by UNESCO as intangible heritage of humanity. At once indigenous and international, unique yet ubiquitous, ikat maybe the next artistic symbol for our global age.